By Salman Parviz

“Deal of the Century” and Sudan-Israel normalization

February 16, 2020 - 17:24

The so-called “Deal of the Century” was announced on January 29. It was rejected by most of the Muslim world. Just a few days after the Arab League’s rejection of the initiative, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Chairman of Sudan’s ruling Sovereign Council met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Entebbe, Uganda, to begin talks for normalization of bilateral ties.

Just a day after the Entebbe meeting and amid objections from domestic politicians and organization in Sudan, Burhan cast doubt on any rapid normalization of ties with Israel, saying his position on the Palestinian issue remains unchanged. (See Burhan-Netanyahu meeting stokes tensions in fragile Sudan coalition government)

Israeli officials have long expressed a wish to improve ties with Khartoum, citing its importance in the region as well as its geopolitical location. One pretext for the normalization is the Zionist regime has been seeking permission for its planes to overfly Sudan, cutting several hours off trips to South Africa. No confirmation of the request or response so far.

Power sharing arrangement between the military and civilian parties in Sudan began last August, following the overthrow of the 30-year regime of Omar al-Bashir last April. The power was handed over from the Transitional Military Council (TMC) to the Sovereign Council which composed of military and civilian leaders.

In September the Sudanese cabinet was formed and Abdullah Hamdok was declared prime minister. (See Sudan Coup Chronology)

Burhan is the most senior figure in the first phase of power-sharing arrangement in which civilian authorities are due to take the lead for the final 18 months of the 39-month transition. Elections are slated for 2022.

Reasons behind normalization:

1) The initiative will boost Netanyahu’s re-election bid, allowing him to tout a diplomatic victory ahead of the March 2 vote. Netanyahu is facing corruption charges and consecutive failures to form a government after back-to-back elections last year; and

2) The move is undoubtedly initiated by Washington, with an incentive for Sudan to be removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, thereby removing the U.S. sanctions.

Meanwhile, Sudan’s interim government said on Thursday (Feb. 13) that it has reached a financial settlement with families of the victims of the attack on the U.S.S. Col in Yemen in 2000. The terrorist group Al Qaeda had claimed responsibility. Of course, this move from Burhan is another effort to persuade the U.S. to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and end the sanctions regime.

Seventeen sailors died and another 39 were wounded in the attack. Relatives of victims and surviving sailors accused Sudan of having supported Al Qaeda, and sought to hold the country liable through American courts.

Sudanese officials said a settlement had been reached with the families on Feb. 7, but did not specify how much compensation would be given.

But Sudan has been implicated on other terrorist charges in the past and it is ethically questionable to hold the innocent Sudanese responsible for a dictatorship they did not elect.

According to a report from Al Jazeera, the U.S. maintains that Sudan was complicit in the 1998 terrorist attacks on its embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam which killed 224 people. At that time al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who allegedly ordered the attacks, was known to reside on Sudanese territory.

The U.S. insists Sudan must pay approximately $10bn in damages, $5.9bn of which to the families of the American victims before the sanctions are lifted. In justifying its position, Washington hides behind the independence of the judiciary and claims that it is a purely legal process that has nothing to do with politics.

West cheers

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked Burhan by phone “for his leadership in normalizing ties with Israel.” Pompeo invited Burhan for a visit to Washington and announced that by December the two countries planned to begin exchanging ambassadors after a 23-year hiatus.

Germany also threw support behind Sudan when Prime Minister Hamdok and Chancellor Angela Merdal held a joint press conference in Berlin on 14 February.

Before Hamdok’s arrival in Berlin, the German parliament decided to lift sanctions on Sudan since 1989 and to resume development, technical, political and financial cooperation between the two countries.

Real reasons behind normalization

Ouster of al-Bashir was not a revolution, it was a coup. There is just one difference between the 2013 coup in Egypt and the one in Sudan. Egypt’s coup ousted its first democratically elected president while in Sudan, a dictator was replaced by a military council. Both cases have one thing in common: they were preplanned and came with a scheme.

In 2015, Sudan dramatically reduced ties with the Islamic Republic to support the war on Yemen, supplying thousands of troops to the Saudi-led coalition.

According to Al Jazeera, Burhan’s deputy in TMC, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, met with Saudi crown prince MBS last May, promising to support Saudi Arabia against “all threats and attacks from Iran and Houthi militias” and continue sending Sudanese troops to help the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Conclusion

The U.S. is looking to Sudan and Morocco as part of a larger American and Middle East alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and UAE , as key partners to counter Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly considering recognizing Morocco’s claim to disputed territory in Western Sahara in exchange for the country reopening relations with Israel.

Israel is reported to have lobbied the United States to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region in exchange for Rabat taking steps to normalize ties with Israel after suspending them in 2000.

It is through Israel that Sudan and Morocco are seeking favors from Washington, the former for sanctions relief the latter for trying to get U.S. to adopt its position on the Western Sahara.

When the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem, it withdrew support for a two-state solution. When Trump announced the “Deal of Century” it withdrew support for a Palestinian state altogether.

The real aim of the “Deal of the Century” is not for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, but eventually to normalize ties between Israel and Sunni-Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which will enable the creation of a regional military alliance against Tehran with the hope of putting the final nails in the coffin of the Palestinian cause.